Unions step up pensions strike plan
Unions have stepped up their plans for a massive strike over public sector pensions as details of the Government's controversial blueprint for worker and employer contributions were revealed.
Unite started sending ballot papers to 160,000 of its members, with the result due on November 16, in time for the union to join the TUC's day of action on November 30.
Unite members work in the NHS, local government, further education, government departments such as the Ministry of Defence and also in not-for-profit organisations where many employees still belong to public sector pension schemes.
Meanwhile, the general secretaries of seven teaching unions handed a petition bearing the signatures of more than 150,000 teachers and lecturers to Schools Minister Nick Gibb, saying the Government's proposals were "unjustified" and simply a "stealth tax" on staff.
Thousands of teachers attended a rally in Westminster, which was told by Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, that teachers were being condemned to "pension poverty" after a lifetime of teaching the nation's children.
But sources at the Treasury insisted that millions of public sector workers will still receive decent pensions even after paying the extra 3.2% in contributions being planned by the Government.
Total costs of public sector pensions have jumped by a third over the past decade to £32 billion, one of the biggest items of public spending, mainly because people were now living much longer, it was pointed out.
The Government intends to finalise its proposals by the end of the year, with legislation planned for 2012-13 and implementation from 2015, saving £2.8 billion a year by then. A series of meetings have been held between ministers and union officials this year, and more talks are set to be held, including discussions on the ceiling the Government wants to put on employer contributions.
The Treasury sources said the cost ceilings on the level of total contributions from employers and employees would be 20.8% in the civil service scheme, 20.2% in the NHS, 20.1% in the teachers and 17.3% in the local government scheme.
Employer contributions would be 15.2% in the civil service, 10.7% in the NHS, 10.5% in the teachers and 9.3% in local government. Officials also claimed that contributions of a third of salary would be needed to get the same pension from a private personal pension plan.